Hermanus and Great White Shark Diving

July 1, 2010

Our drive out of Franschoek took us through winding passages in between mountains that looked more like Scotland than South Africa. No guardrails and hairpin turns made it a little more exhilarating until we finally leveled out closer to the ocean. Hermanus is a small coastal town, with rocky cliffs and no real sandy beach. The weather was perfect, albeit a little cool and windy.

Indian Ocean, Hermanus, South Africa

Enjoying the view in Hermanus

We checked into our hostel, the Hermanus Backpackers Inn, which was a great hippie-vibe house converted into a hostel-posters all over the walls, painted murals, etc. We had one room for all five of us, which had two sets of bunk beds and one queen-sized bed. The place was full of tourists from all over, hanging out on the couches, playing with the dog outside, and smoking cigarettes on the porch. After grabbing a beer at the backyard bar, we walked down to the “city center” for dinner and to watch the night’s match.

Hermanus Backpackers Inn, Hermanus, South Africa

Backyard bar at Hermanus Backpackers

I have to say, I’m pretty pleased with the no-smoking in restaurants law back in the States as the chimney sitting at the bar smoked his entire pack next to our table. I’m pretty sure this aggravated my sinuses so it was hard for me to fully enjoy the evening. However, the place we ate was called “Tapas” which rightfully so, specialized in small dishes to share. When we arrived around 5pm, we found out the kitchen would be closed until 6pm so all we could have were drinks.

Hermanus, South Africa

En route to the Tapas bar in Hermanus

Of course by about 5:45pm we were all starving so they finally  brought out some of our food. Everything was really good – we ordered a cheese plate, chorizo (which by the way was more like kielbasa  smothered in a bbq type sauce with onions) ratatouille and some other items. After our dinner, Brody decided that we should all do a shot of something. Since he was feeling a bit creative, he wanted to create his own shot which would someday become famous – the Hermanus Hammer (we have video of this historical/hysterical event). I think our waitress was throroughly confused and disgusted at our request for grape fanta, jager, vodka and red bull. And it was good!
The next morning, we woke up and packed our things for Gansbaai, where we would go cage diving with Great White sharks, about a 40 minute drive from Hermanus. Gansbaai is even smaller than Hermanus, with it’s claim to fame being shark diving and whale watching.

Great White Shark Diving, Gansbaai

View from Great White Shark Tours

We arrived at Brian McFarlane’s place, who was the pioneer of shark diving, and promptly discovered we were indeed wearing wetsuits. We had thought maybe we’d be in drysuits, but I guess the water wasn’t cold enough for it (about 12 degrees Celcius, so around 60-something Farenheit – not too bad). They provided us with a nice big breakfast buffet and anti-nausea medication which I thought might be a bit contradictory, as well as a quick breifing on what we were getting ourselves into. There were about 40 people

Lots of wetsuits ready to go!

Lots of wetsuits ready to go!

on our boat, however only 20 or so would actually go in the water. We boarded the two-level boat and grabbed hold for our 20 min ride out to Dyer Island, where the cage was waiting for us and apparently where the sharks like to hang out. After anchoring and reeling in the cage, I understood why the anti-nausea meds were handed out: the boat rocked side to side, side to side, side to side, you get the point. Dave said we’re supposed to look at the horizon since it stays put, instead of the boat or the water, so I did that quite a few times. We were all eager to get in the cage so as soon as the boat anchored, we made sure to be in the first queue (8 people in the cage per session).

Great White Shark diving, Gansbaai, South Africa

Good to go!

The sharks came over pretty quickly since we had a nice big tuna fish head luring them in. The Great Whites were massive – about 12-16 ft. long and weighing around 1 ton each. They would swim right by the cage and the boathands would yell out where it was and we’d all go underwater to look at them (Dave touched one on it’s side fin), as well as the other fish swimming by.

Great White Shark, Gansbaai, South Africa

One of the mid-size Great Whites we saw

They are such incredible creatures, so powerful and dangerous but serene just the same. It was almost more comforting to come in contact with them in that setting, as opposed to always being afraid of a shark attack in the ocean. They are more curious than anything, not the stereotypical violent attackers (we all remember Jaws) they are perceived to be. The sharks would swim by the cage and around the boat, then play with the foam decoy and thrash around at the surface. Their eyes are so black you can’t even see a pupil – just a concave black spot on either side of their snout, and they swim with their mouth slightly open so we got a nice flash of razor sharp teeth each time.

Great White Shark, Gansbaai, South Africa

Going for the decoy

Great White Shark, Gansbaai, South Africa

Smile for the camera!

We went in one more time (much colder for some reason) then the last round of the last group went in. One of the big sharks took a liking to one of the girls and started to try and put his snout in the cage – scary! We left the spot and took a quick trip around the island to see the enormous amount of seals (obviously the reason the sharks hang around) sunning on the rocks and playing in the water. After another quick trip back to land, we viewed the DVD that the boathands put together during the trip and ate some hot chicken soup before starting our trek to Cape Town.

Great White Shark diving, Gansbaai, South Africa

Relaxing before round 2

Overall, the shark diving was incredible. Nothing to be afraid of unless you lose your grip and fall in where there is no cage. Everyone told us that it is best to go in winter when the sharks are more abundant so I’m glad we did it when we did. I would definitely go again.

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